The Rise and Fall of Jai Alai

The Rise and Fall of Jai Alai

(techno music) – [Leon] Jai alai is a dance. – [Benny] This is a game of finesse. It’s fast, the balls go between
150 and 170 miles per hour. – [Narrator] For the better
part of the 20th century, jai alai was the sport in Miami. You went to see it and to be seen. Yet today, the sport is barely hanging on. So, what happened? (soft music) – Jai alai’s a sport that was very famous back in the ’40s, ’50s, and it comes from Europe, Spain, France. In 1924, it arrived in Miami. – [News Anchor] Jai alai, one
of the oldest of all games, is taking winter residents
of Miami by storm. – [Narrator] It’s been dubbed
the world’s fastest game. You may have vague memories of seeing it in a Dos Equis commercial, or in the opening scene of “Miami Vice.” – [Benny] It was an exciting sport, and we used to get a lot of celebrities that would come out and
wanna be a part of it, and wanna be seen at jai alai. – [Narrator] That’s Benny Bueno. He’s one of the most decorated American jai alai players of all time. He’s currently the player
manager at Dania Casino. – It was a combination of the nightlife, and getting dressed up
and having a place to go. The largest crowd that
ever visited Miami Jai Alai was 15,000 people. The arena held probably about 12,000. It’s just something that’s
visually stimulating for someone that’s never seen it. It’s addicting in a sense. – I’ve been playing jai alai for 28 years. I got to experience a good
five years of 7,000-8,000 people in the fronton. It was so loud, you couldn’t
really hear your partners. And it was just awesome to
play in front of a huge crowd. – [Narrator] Now, the inevitable question: How did we go from crowds of 10,000 plus to a scattered 100 on a good day? – I believe it was in the mid-thirties, that gambling was legalized on jai alai. The wagering on jai alai
has always been a blessing and a curse—in the
sense where the wagering is what has kept it alive for so long, but it has kind of taken away
a little bit of the sport, the athleticism, the game itself. Over the years, the focus has changed. It’s no longer a jai alai arena, it is a casino, with a jai alai
arena, with a poker room. And the focus is mainly on the property rather just the sport of jai alai. – [Narrator] But that wasn’t
the sports only problem. In 1981, then owner of World
Jai Alai, Roger Wheeler, was assassinated. His murder is associated
with Whitey Bulger and the Winter Hill Gang. And the sport became inexorably
tied to organized crime in the public’s mind. Then, in 1988, there was a player strike that lasted three years. – It all was the perfect
storm, where it started to take some of our clientele away. I don’t want it to be on my watch that jai alai goes away or fails. It’s a lot of fun, and
it’s something that I did for 25 years, so I can’t just walk away. – Looking out at the crowd
and seeing less people doesn’t deter my work ethic. – Go right, go right. – I’m gonna play the same
level and prepare myself, whether its 1,000 people or … 200 people. Once the balls in the air, you gotta move. Playing a sport at that
speed every day, you know, is awesome. I still have the love and
the passion for the game.


  1. The question isn't how the crowds went from 15,000 to a few hundred, but why ANYONE would watch this shit.

  2. If 99% of MLB pitchers would dominate this…… please don't give me technique… Cause pitchers face a batter u face a wall

  3. Sure it failed because of drugs, scandals, and gambling. But it also failed because it's just the same thing as the racquetball craze of the seventies and eighties. The simple fact is the sport is not enough of a spectacle on its own to be entertaining. A basketball game? A baseball game? A football game? Horse racing, auto racing, it's all the same. It's a big spectacle! But I have watched both this sport and racquetball. And they both get boring really fast. They both do not translate to TV very well, so that limits that growth. It's not like bowling or golf where people can play at recreationally. It's a niche sport that has a shelf life. Kids don't want to play it, you can't watch it on TV, And every time you turned around in the seventies and eighties there was some sort of scandal. Ship it.

  4. These "documentaries" are for shallow, short-attention-span Millennials who want to pretend to have understanding.

  5. It's a typical Basque tradition and sport. In France, we called it "pelote basque".It's still a sport practiced by Young French Basques in west South of France. We watched it during vacantion in this land. EUSKAL HERRIA !

  6. The reason why it died was because all the spectaculars were mostly white. Now the city of Miami is significantly less white and has less of a audience.

  7. Honestly I miss it! I made money everyday, no exceptions. The lottery sucks, parimutuel betting is the bomb.

  8. i learned more about Jai Alai from Archer than i did from this video. for example, besides going super fast, the ball is super hard and could maim the players, hence why they are wearing helmets. Archer commented that the ball is like limestone and should have been wearing a helmet.

  9. Wow! Just looked it up. Jai Alai originated in Spain in the 14th Century!!!!
    That makes it older than any modern sport that's popular today.

  10. My wife’s grandfather was a professional player in Miami in the 30’s (he was born in 1907), his name was Rafael Roda. Regards from Rio

  11. Miami Vice is the only reason I know about this sport. A few years ago I I decided to check out Miami Vice for the 1st time & binged watched it. I saw the intro, & wondered, what game are they playing w/ a scoop?

  12. Will Farrell as Benny Bueno and Ben Stiller as Lutador Noche in a comedy classic: Jai Alai – rise of an underdog

  13. It would be nice if they could show more than just 0.5 Second clips of them playing, all these cuts are annoying af

  14. Leon Shepard Plays Under The Name Tevin. Raised In Bridgeport CT. He Is An American Who Won Championships Against The Basques Who Invented The Game. He Was The Star Player At Bridgeport And Mitford Jai Alai In CT. A Super Athlete And All Around Great Person. Leon Took His Place Among The Super Stars Of Jai Alai With Bolivar, Cachin, Juaristi, Chimala, Inclan, Zabala, The Castro's, Minte, Goixacchi, Badiola, Gisioula, Rekalde, Lasa, Pedruzzo, Guissola, Xbat To Name A Few Of The Greats. What Killed The Sport Was The Opening Of The Casinos In CT. The Players Strike Also Contributed To The Downfall Of This Magnificent Sport Played With A Rock Hard Ball (Pelota). Harder Than A Baseball & Golf Ball Exceeding Speeds Of 180 Mph And Caught In A Handmade Scoop Called A Cesta. To Watch Players Scale The Sidewall To Make Amazing Catches Is A Thing Of Beauty. Miss This Sport Everyday Not Seeing The Best Players In The World Competing At Bridgeport,Mitford, And Hartford CT. What Great Times And Memories I Have Of The Glory Days. And Unlike The Racetrack When You Hit On A 2 OR 3 Dollar Bet, You Won Good Money And Had A Great Entertainment Game Win Or Lose. Viva Jai Alai.

  15. thought its a song,

    I am just a poor boy

    Though my story's seldom told

    I have squandered my resistance

    For a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises

    All lies and jests

    Still a man hears what he wants to hear

    And disregards the rest

    When I left my home and my family

    I was no more than a boy

    In the company of strangers

    In the quiet of the railway station

    Running scared,

    Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters

    Where the ragged people go

    Looking for the places

    Only they would know

    hai alai, hai alai alai la lai
    hai alai, hai alai alai la lai
    la la la la lai

  16. wow, to play this sport, i just need to grow out my finger nail!!! oooh, i think i can do that!!! bwaaaaH!!!

  17. I remember wanting to go see this as a kid but couldn't because it was gambling 😂😂😂😂🤣🤣🤣. I had no idea they still did this. I was just in For.Lauderdale last week and drove past this casino. Had I known this I would have gone inside.

  18. I went to shot a documentary at Jai Alai in Miami, we ran away from there. The place was dark, all the homeless people from the area were inside on the chairs enjoying the AC. The place was abandoned. They still had the same huge 80" rear-projection TVs from the 80s. They didn't change ANYTHING since the 80's. They haven't even clean the place. You really need to have some sort of mental issue to keep a venue so dirty and deteriorated and functioning! It was a ghetto.

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